Trend Observations: Privacy and the Economy

I’ve noticed some trends recently:

On the subject of privacy:

  • The Wall Street Journal published a series on the obvious, but then again it may only be obvious to those of us who have been paying attention and studying it. So kudos for deciding to use its heft to educate the populace, for once. We can argue about the Murdoch slant, and the issue of “tracking” WSJ does in another post.
  • Facebook is the first to take a body blow on the subject of privacy, and often pointed to as the villain we can’t live without. People seem to forget the amount of data Google collects across all of its services. I suspect it’s because Facebook puts all its offerings under one roof, or one website, while Google has spread its out over multiple websites (Gmail, Picasa, Reader, Search, etc). And let’s not forget the amount of information it collects/tracks from its Android mobile OS. And there is the other brick-and-mortar places that collect data as well yet remain nameless since, well, they are brick-and-mortar stores, not bytes exchanged over the Internet. What harm could they possibly be?
  • People are getting wise to what they give up in the name of convenience, from credit card transactions to Web search histories to photos uploaded to wherever, not to mention “checking in” on FourSquare, Gowalla and the like. There is not yet a mass against, but there are tremors of something as people start to pay attention, to learn, and not like what they have discovered.
  • The population at large will have to do some soul searching on what, exactly, privacy means and what value, if any, it has.
  • Building privacy education into curriculum is still not an idea, outside Germany. Another example of US falling behind in education? Then again, how can you teach something you still can’t define?
  • Wikileaks finds itself caught in the cross hairs again after it released thousands of once-classified documents. Another instance of innocent bystanders caught in the middle, perhaps, that I have written about before. However, you have to admit that Wikileaks accomplished something many can’t quite figure out (or refuse to do): putting all documents related to a topic in one spot.

On the subject of the economy:

  • Bailed out financial industry is reporting profits.
  • Bailed out auto industry is reporting improvement, perhaps profits.
  • Another stimulus package is saving…ahem…retaining…jobs….government/education jobs.
  • Industries that get a bailout return to profitability.
  • The general public has yet to get a bailout, and will thus continue to suffer.

A few things are clear. There is no escaping the issue of privacy, and sooner or later we’re going to need to come to a consensus. You can bet those who feel their interests (wallets) are threatened will mount a hefty lobbying effort. Be interesting to see how lobbyists react when their “privacy” is violated in some fashion. If it doesn’t exist, as they might claim, then they shouldn’t get so upset, right? Kind of like the ridiculousness of Eric Schmidt getting upset that people could use Google to find his house. Expect much “cleaning up” of online profiles from lobbyists, which itself begs other questions. We are going to need to come to a consensus.

The government bailouts are working, though not in the manner in which the government wants us to believe. Industries that were bailed out have turned profitable again, yet aren’t being quick to hire. And industries that have not been bailed out are struggling, if not collapsing. One can conclude that a bailout = profitability, and the general public is putting two-and-two together. How well they do that may be reflected in upcoming elections.

It is clear, however, that there is no one solution to the ailing economy. We’re all a bit “Great Recession” weary now, and it is not surprising that tempers are flaring. Everyone gives a knee jerk reaction to news, good or bad. Hard pressed to find good news, come to think of it. There is too much uncertainty, no one knows what to believe. The public also  seems to be weary of the “trial and error” method the government is using.

With such creative job quitting the past couple days, though, from the flight attendant to the woman who quit via a dry erase board, you can only hope such creative thinking will be applied to creating jobs, too.


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